“rocket” science

by Art Chantry ( art@artchantry.com)

a few months back, i got into a ‘pissing’ match with another old punk dude who is extremely knowledgable and even wise. i was so sure he was WRONG. we argued here in my FB™ page back and forth late at night (always smart) and finally started attacking the relative worth of each other’s town (him,ny/me,seattle). finally we just started calling each other names and that was that. i unfriended™ him with self-righteous indignity. since then, we’ve ignored each other.


one problem is, that i deeply respect this guy. he’s brilliant and even, like i said, “wise” (punky, too). he does not suffer fools easily and neither do i. so here we were at odds over a trifle. i actually REMOVED him from consideration over this trifle. but, as time went on, i thought about his position in our argument and started to check around, do a little research, and guess, what? i was totally wrong and utterly fulla crap. he was dead on and absolutely right. i was the fool here and he was only trying to set me straight. so, my hat’s off to stephen kroninger and i bow to his wisdom. he was was right and i was wrong. i stand before you with egg on my face. tastes awful, too.

our argument was sorta pointless and tiny. basically, i was all pumped up about how great my old alma mater magazine (The Rocket) was and that it created a unique graphic design stamp on american design language. this is nothing new for me. i originally got involved with the publication way back in the early 80′s simply because i thought it was ‘great’ and important. i worked feverishly to contribute to it’s legacy – and i did. the idea that i would stand up and crow about how brilliant and influential the rocket was is no surprise to anybody who knows me.

however, stephen took a different position. he dismissed the rocket as an imitation NYRocker rip-off. that everything the rocket was, the nyrocker was FIRST. that the people on staff at the rocket were simply using the nyrocker as a template. given that many of the originator people from the rocket were from upstate newyork/washington dc area, the nyrocker was well known to them and was their inspiation. the rocket was not that special in comparison. the rocket may have BECOME a great magazine by itself with time (and it really did. it became amazing). but, it’s origins were simply copycatting.

i became incensed. my beloved rocket a copycat? i NEVER!!!! HOW DARE YOU!!!.

well, in the time since, i’ve gone out and found old copies of the nyrocker magazine from the same era as the early rocket. to say i was humbled is no exaggeration. i found actual page layouts in the nyrocker that were simply copied almost directly across into the page design of the rocket (with a new article installed). i could feel my face turn red when i saw that. in fact, the entire style and layout and dynamics/pacing of the nyrocker was obviously the original model for the rocket. even the NAME, for chrissakes! it’s not ‘rocket’ science to make the step from ‘rocker’ to ‘rocket’.

the truth is that everybody at the rocket in the early days thought of the nyrocker as at the bible. it was solid gold. and living in seattle, and hopelessly unhip, i had never seen copy of it. all these years i thought the rocket was a brilliant design INVENTION. but, the reality it was merely part of a larger dialog.

that isn’t to say that the rocket is worthless. far from it. i still think of it as one of the most important magazines of the 80′s and 90′s – especially in graphic design dialogs. it spawned astonishing influential careers for literally scores of people. it put the visual stamp of it design thinking onto the visual design style of an entire movement. in a way, the rocket was the melting pot of an entire counterculture generation. but, to say it was an epiphany of wholly original design thought? no way. it was just one of many many such similar publications aroun

e country. even the nyrocker can’t make any claims to originality – it copied others, too.

so, my utter failure in scholarship (i never claim to be an academician. i’m just an advocate and craphound.) in reality only points to my larger thesis: that great design language is a product of cultural dialogue and not individual genius. basically my epiphany here is that there is no epiphany involved. just the, slow steady movement of many.

my deepest apologies to mr. stephen kroninger. you rock, dood.

AC: i think the use of the word “friend” on FB™ is a terrible misnomer. the reality, this place is full of ‘acquaintances’. the reality here is that, even though i’ve worked on and off with stephen kroninger for a couple decades (no joke), i’ve never net the guy. i have no idea even what he looks like. so, when you ‘unfriend’ somebody here, it’s not killing a friendship. it’s eliminating access to your page (sometimes for excellent reasons, sometimes not). we go ahead and interpret it as “no longer friends”. but that’s horseshit. so, don’t take ‘unfriending’ seriously folks. it’s a bad label of a new behavior paradigm. it’s imposed on us by geeks trying to sell a new product (Facebook™).

… what I’m saying is that copycatting is how we all learn. we don’t personally INVENT walking for ourselves. we look at how other people walk and then try to imitate them. same goes for design – no matter they say in academia. it’s like learning to talk. and the early rocket all basically look around them to see show others did it and followed their lead. we ALL do that. and the early rocket obviously looked real hard at the nyrocker. that’s all i’m putting forth here. actual copying? well, that’s for you to decide. it’s of no importance….

… i want to also point out that i have no joy in saying this stuff. i dearly love the rocket. it’s a primal part of my life – i worked there for over ten years. all that time i thought i was contributing to an original voice and an deeply important cause. the reality is that it was a magazine. so, i have no illusion bout it any more. i may have been the last to believe in it’s critical importance, too. lord knows you guys who split did your best to ignore you had a hand in the thing for decades. it’s ok….

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